If there is one thing that clinical engineering departments are noticing, it is that the number of medical devices that are now able to connect to networks is increasing. Whether it is a CT scanner sending to a picture archiving and communication system (PACS), or a patient monitor sending to an electronic health record, the definite trend is that more and more devices are being outfitted with the ability to connect to networks to share information with other devices and systems in a hospital or health system.
Even though clinical engineering departments are generally not responsible for maintaining hospital network infrastructure, it is still important to understand the connectivity of devices that they do maintain. This is especially important when trying to diagnose connectivity issues between devices maintained by a clinical engineering department and servers or other networked equipment. Troubleshooting such issues will almost always involve working with the IT department of the hospital, and being able to provide important network and connectivity information to IT contacts puts everyone one step ahead in the process. Understanding and keeping track of pertinent networking information for clinical devices will only become more important as connectivity between hospital systems and devices continues to become more complex.
Our department has found it to be extremely important to keep track of the following pieces of information related to the network configurations of devices and systems that we maintain and support.
What it is: An Internet protocol (IP) address is essentially a numeric address assigned to a networked computer/device that is necessary for communication to and from that device over the network, the 192.168.1.1, for example. An IP address can be “static,” which means the address never changes, or “dynamic,” which means the address changes at certain intervals.
Why it is important: Knowing the IP address of a device or system is probably the most important piece of information when trying to diagnose connection issues between that device and another system. There are a number of basic connection tests that can be performed when you know the IP address of a device. Whether you will perform the connection tests yourself or work with another department, you will have to know the IP address at some point. Not having to physically access the device for the information speeds up this process dramatically.
How to obtain it: IP addresses are generally going to be assigned by your IT department and are provided to the system’s vendor upon installation. The exception is if the system is run as a stand-alone, vendor-managed network—in which case the vendor will provide the IP addresses during installation of the device.
|Biomeds may not maintain the maze of the network, but it is important to understand the connectivity of devices that they do maintain.|
What it is: A host name is the logical named assigned to a computer connected to a network or the Internet, such as www.yahoo.com or SERVER1. Devices can use a host name to connect to a server or other network device in place of, or in addition to, an IP address.
Why it is important: Some devices and systems communicate using a host name instead of or in conjunction with an IP address. For systems like this, knowing the host name would be just as important as knowing the IP address of the system.
How to obtain it: The host name can come from the vendor, IT department, or your department depending on how the device is installed. Sometimes the vendor configures the host name and will simply tell you what it is when the device is installed. In other cases, the vendor will allow you to choose the host name of the system. At that point, either your department or the IT department can make the determination based on your policies and procedures.
What it is: A media access control (MAC) address is the unique identification number for every individual network card, both physical and wireless (eg, 001A.1040.4080). Since this address is hard coded into the network card itself, it does not change even if the IP address, host name, etc of a computer changes.
Why it is important: This is useful as it is the lowest level of network connectivity for a device on the network. If a device cannot connect to the network, IT can use the MAC address to find the network switch the device is connected to and diagnose any issues with the switch. This is also useful to have as static IP addresses are usually reserved by IT based on MAC addresses. If you have an IP address reserved and you wish to change the device that IP address is assigned to, you need to know the old and new MAC address of the device.
How to obtain it: Since MAC addresses are hard coded into the network card of the device, the vendor should be able to either provide the MAC address of the device when you get it or the vendor will tell you how to find it.
What it is: Connectivity information can include the IP address and/or host name of the device(s), whether the connection is inbound to the device or outbound to another device, and the type and specifics of the communication.
Why it is important: This information is useful because knowing that a device cannot connect to another device or server, but not knowing what device or server and how it connects, increases the time to diagnose issues dramatically. The issue could easily exist on the other device or system, but there is no way to know without understanding how or what your device is connected to.
How to obtain it: This information usually needs to be collected from various sources, including the equipment vendor, IT, and your department. Collecting as much information about the type, nature, route, and destination of a networked connection only helps when it comes time to figure out what is going on with a system when there is an issue. While you might not be the one resolving the issue, you can certainly expedite the process for whoever is.
Find past Networking articles in the archives.
This information, along with other pieces of device-related IT information that we keep track of, helps us resolve issues, plan system expansions, and answer questions for others in the organization on a daily basis. We have also found it helpful to keep track of this information in various ways beyond the device inventory for our facility. We have created spreadsheets, network topologies, and diagrams with pertinent information to help in solving system issues. Having a big-picture view of this information grouped for like devices and systems is also an invaluable tool.
While this was a brief overview of some of the things we keep track of, I would by no means say that this is a complete list of everything you should track. I would encourage you to work with your IT department and vendors to better understand their processes for troubleshooting systems and the information that is most helpful to those processes. This will not only help you get a better understanding of information you may want to keep on file, but it will also bolster a collaborative relationship with those that you will become increasingly dependent upon to plan, implement, and troubleshoot increasingly complex and integrated devices moving forward.
Ian Vallely is a medical equipment information systems specialist, biomedical engineering, at Sequoia Hospital, Redwood City, Calif. For more information, contact .